First Line Fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

I read the sign again, glowing in front of me:

Type of organism: human female

Origin: Earth

Age: about twelve years

This brand new exhibit will be introduced to the wider Earth Zone exhibition when emotional stability has been achieved.

Any ideas?

I was lucky enough to be sent this one for review, and having read the first page, I’m already hooked. Just need to finish my other review commitments first!

Goodreads Synopsis:

A small village in the wilds of Northumberland is rocked by the disappearance of twelve-year-old Tammy. Only her twin brother, Ethan, knows she is safe – and the extraordinary truth of where she is. It is a secret he must keep, or risk never seeing her again. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to give up. Together with his friend Iggy and the mysterious (and very hairy) Hellyann, Ethan teams up with a spaceship called Philip, and Suzy the trained chicken, for a nail-biting chase to get his sister back… that will take him further than anyone has ever been before. A remarkable story of sibling connection, friendship and interstellar adventure.

Review: A Sprinkle of Sorcery

Published by Simon & Schuster
Cover Illustration: Melissa Castrillon
Published on 6th February

A Sprinkle of Sorcery is the absolutely irresistible, and most welcome, return to the Poacher’s Pocket and the lives of the Widdershin sisters and their wonderfully crotchety, straight-talking, protective Granny.  This unforgettable, thrilling adventure captivated me just as much as my introduction to these incredible girls in the equally amazing A Pinch of Magic. 

Betty Widdershin discovers a pitiful, frightened young girl, who introduces herself as Willow, and who brings with her a will-o-the-wisp from the marshes. Despite being wary and scared herself, Betty is unable to resist helping someone in need, so aides Willow in hiding from those hunting her.  Betty’s decision leads to terrible consequences, and a deeply felt guilt, as her young sister Charlie goes missing.

Determined to find their young sister, Betty, her older sister Fliss, alongside Willow, leave The Poacher’s Pocket and find themselves venturing in search of the truth behind some old legends, aboard their trusty boat, as they seek out clues not only to save Charlie, but also to help Willow in her own determined mission to seek justice for a loved one. 

Their action-packed adventure leads them from a breath-taking encounter with pirates to a search for a hidden island … through periods of great danger and tension to heart-pounding revelations and towards new friendships.

The Widdershin sisters epitomise the heart-warming, strong bond of sisterhood.  I adored the genuine relationship between the girls:  full of warmth, honesty and love, their unbreakable bond giving them the strength to overcome fear, and show incredible fortitude, resilience and resourcefulness in the face of great peril.  Betty is kind-hearted, empathetic and determined, willing to make tough decisions and take risks.  Charlie is gregarious, irrepressible and fearless.  Fliss is charming and, although she can doubt herself, she shows herself to be just as courageous and ingenious as her sisters. 

A Sprinkle of Sorcery has absolutely everything I adore in a perfectly enthralling story which kept me turning the pages with bated breath, desperate not only to find out what happens, but also just because the Widdershin sisters captured my heart and I wanted to spend time with them.  I don’t know if that’s because I am one of three sisters, or because the closeness between the sisters is just so beautifully portrayed.  It doesn’t matter at all that they have their arguments and disagreements– what sisters don’t? – what really stands out is that they look out for each other and love each other sincerely and deeply. 

I am in awe of Michelle Harrison’s imagination and skill in writing this story:  hidden islands of legend, will-o-the-wisps in different guises, pirates, witches and a sprinkle of sorcery.  You absolutely must pick up this book:  it will transport you into an unforgettable, richly-drawn world filled with a superb cast of characters which is brimming with action that will have you on the edge-of-your-seat, desperate for more … be prepared to devour this masterpiece in one sitting! 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Read for Empathy 2020 collections

As a primary school teacher and keen advocate of reading for pleasure in my classroom, I am a firm believer that reading books can help develop empathy in children and adults. This is a fantastic collection, lots of which I have already enjoyed and others which I will definitely be picking up for my school library.

The 2020 #ReadforEmpathy Book Collections from @EmpathyLabUK are announced today and feature 50 superb books; 33 for 4-11 year olds and 17 for 12-16 year olds. 

The Primary Collection
The Secondary Collection

“Society faces an empathy crisis. But research shows that 98% of us can improve our empathy skills and that in books we have a hugely practical tool. This collection can play a powerful role in helping raise a generation of empathic citizens, story by story.” – Miranda McKearney, EmpathyLab’s founder

Some illuminate the experience of people from a range of cultures or life circumstances. Others help children explore emotions, so they can understand how other people feel. Several reflect stories of our time, such as the refugee experience, or coping with anxiety. All are engaging and thought provoking.

The collections are available to order from Peters via https://www.peters.co.uk/empathy2020 or can be purchased from your local independent bookshop. Click https://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch to find your nearest shop.

Each collection has its own Read for Empathy Guide with a synopsis of all of the books, top tips for sharing stories and more information about #EmpathyDay which is on 9 June 2020. 

Teachers, librarians, parents can download your FREE guides by visiting https://www.empathylab.uk/2020-read-for-empathy-collections

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.      What are you currently reading?

2.      What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L D Lapinski (publication April 2020). This is SO, SO good! I love portal magic and, the more I learn about the magical system in this book, the more I love it. The characters are brilliantly written and incredibly engaging and the world-building is wonderful – so clever!

Normally, I NEVER read more than one book at a time. BUT I made a bookish resolution to try to listen to audiobooks which I’ve never really got on with! I think I’ve worked out my problem – and found a solution! I used to listen to audiobooks in bed when I was tired, so I’d always drift off and miss loads. I’m now listening in the car going to and from work, and in class as I get organised in the morning – works perfectly for me! I’m currently listening to The Boy Who Fooled the World (on BorrowBox, a free library service), and it is utterly brilliant.

I read four books this week. Charlotte’s Web is such a wonderful story which did make me cry, and smile and take me back to my childhood – this is one I think I will read to my class this year. The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo is a beautifully magical and heartfelt story which I really enjoyed. Letters from the Lighthouse is truly brilliant. I read it in one sitting as I really couldn’t bear to stop reading. I really enjoyed Milton the Mighty which was a really fun story with an important message.

I was lucky enough to be sent both of these for review. I read Brightstorm at the start of 2019 and absolutely loved it, but I haven’t written a review as that was before I started my blog and knew of the existence of Goodreads! I will be using Brightstorm with my Year 4 class as an English unit, so this is perfect timing! I’m so excited to also have DarkWhispers to read immediately after (published February 2020).

What have you enjoyed reading recently? Have you read any of these?

Review: Milton the Mighty

Published by Chicken House
Published on 6th June 2019
Illustrator: Alex G Griffiths

Milton the Mighty is a wonderfully endearing, humorous story of teamwork and ingenuity where the heroes are just perfectly adorable and likeable – and this from someone who, whilst not petrified of spiders, has been known to scream a little when faced with one of the larger house spiders! 

I adored Milton and his brilliantly supportive friends, Ralph and Audrey who exude personality and then some!  Poor harmless Milton, the false black widow spider, has been falsely accused of being a danger to humans by the nasty Felicity Thrubwell who runs a company called BugKILL, determined to exterminate all spiders, driven by her greed and fear of them.  Her media campaign is impacting on, and endangering, many spiders … and Milton the Mighty is determined to do something about it.

Unfortunately for Milton, he lives in a house where the owner, Mr Macey screams rather loudly whenever he sees a spider. Luckily, the spiders have a friend on their side.  Zoe, Mr Macey’s daughter, becomes the champion they need to help them fight back.  Of course, the spiders take action to help themselves as well.  Milton’s natural curiosity and daring blossom as he is encouraged to discover his courage by his supportive friends. 

There is plenty of humour in this gorgeous story, lots of fast-paced action and ingenious interactions between Zoe and Milton whose friendship is gorgeous!  When he decides to befriend Zoe, his web becomes linked to the human web, the internet, in order to educate and redress the balance for the spider population.   This is such a heart-warming, fun and uplifting story with a really important message around the conservation of spiders and how important they are to our ecosystem, and also gives us food for thought on the harm humans can inflict on these beautiful creatures, often through misplaced fears. 

The cover and interior illustrations by Alex G Griffiths are wonderfully whimsical and complement the story perfectly:  the expressions are just perfect!

I loved the ‘Spidery Sciency Stuff’ and ‘How to Speak Spider’ at the end of the book which gives information on the real spiders upon which Milton and his friends are based and on the body parts of arachnids which I have no doubt will fascinate young readers.  This is a perfect story for children of 7+ who I’m sure will take Milton and his friends to heart, just as I did!

Review: Letters from the Lighthouse

Published by Faber & Faber
Published on 1st June 2017
Illustration: Julian De Narvaez

This is an absolutely gripping historical mystery set during the Second World War, and one which I read in one sitting as I just couldn’t put it down!

Olive and her brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devon coast after it becomes unsafe for them to remain in London as the air raids are becoming more and more frequent.  Trying to find her sister during such an air raid, Olive makes a surprising discovery … one that is to resonate throughout the story and which leads her to question her sister, the sister who has now gone missing … leaving Olive with a coded message, one she is determined to decipher.

Once in Devon, intrigue ensues and mysteries abound as Olive uncovers a secret mission led by those who take her and her brother in.  Late night meetings behind closed doors, mysterious communications, maps, foreign words and furtive conversations.  Olive is determined to solve the mystery whilst living in the lighthouse run by Ephraim who she suspects is more than just a lighthouse keeper, and may know more about her sister than he is admitting.  She stumbles on discoveries that lead her on a daring mission to save others who are in terrible danger.

Olive is a wonderful young girl:  she is clever, resilient, kind and likeable, but is also capable of making mistakes and taking actions which she later regrets.  The development of her relationship with Esther, the young Jewish girl who has come to England on the Kindertransport, from enemies to friends is so credible.  Esther is angry and resentful having lost her home and family and is finding it incredibly difficult to adjust to her new life.  As they find they have something in common, and both aim to help those in need, the girls’ friendship strengthens.

The portrayal of prejudice in a community and how quickly this can turn to fear and hatred is powerfully shown.  Both Olive and Esther show great courage and strength in challenging these prejudices from both children and adults, prejudice born of fear and ignorance.

This is historical fiction at its pinnacle.  It is a story of mystery and revelation, of loss and hope, of togetherness and separation, of prejudice and enlightenment.  It is a story of ordinary people determined to offer help to those in great need … what a powerful message!

#SixforSunday

#SixforSunday is hosted by Steph at A Little But a Lot. The theme for January is Getting to Know You and today’s prompt is Books people associate with me. Anyone reading my blog posts will know that I am an avid reader of middle-grade fiction, so I imagine people will associate me with reading children’s books – mostly fantasy! I’ve decided to take a slightly different slant on today’s Six for Sunday (as usual!) and share books associated with me related to my blogging journey so far!

My first Book Review on my blog was for The Golden Butterfly by Sharon Gosling. It is an absorbing, richly-detailed historical adventure set in the late Victorian period with a brilliant protagonist, Luciana, a girl outside her time who is not prepared to conform to the norms of Victorian society. She craves excitement and adventure, and protecting the legacy of her beloved Grandfather, the magician known as The Magnificent Marko, provides her with just that as she searches for the key behind her Grandfather’s Golden Butterfly illusion.

My first e-ARC approval on NetGalley. Before I started blogging, I had never heard of NetGalley and can’t actually remember how I found out about it now! I do, however, remember the excitement of being approved for my first book – racing upstairs to tell my husband who couldn’t see what all the excitement was about! I haven’t lost this excitement for being approved to read a book – and the disappointment of not being approved! Guardians of the Wild Unicorns is a fast-paced adventure set in the Scottish Highlands where the last herd of wild unicorns has been captured and are now endangered. It is up to Rhona and Lewis, two children on a school residential, to rescue them, overcoming their fears, showing determination and courage as they face some very real threats from Ailsa, the laird’s daughter.

My first physical ARC. Before I started blogging, I didn’t know that ARCs (Advance Reader Copy) existed! Not long after I started blogging, I saw a publicist ask on Twitter if bloggers wanted I Cosmo to review. Nothing ventured, nothing gained so I requested it, not expecting to be sent it. I was very excited when a few days later, it arrived through the post with a letter from the author. This will always be a special book to me – and luckily it is a brilliant story as well – and has the most likes for one of my reviews on Goodreads! I’ve decided that’s because I’ve let people know that Cosmo doesn’t die! I Cosmo is told from the point-of-view of an elderly golden retriever who is trying to help Max, the son in the family, through a family break-down. A truly exceptional story: full of life, heart, humour, friendship – and dancing!

My first book won via a Book Review site. I discovered a wonderful Book Review site quite by accident and thought I’d enter one of their Giveaways, not expecting to win! I was absolutely delighted when I received my first book to review via this site from the publishers. Swimming Against the Storm. When they discover that their home is under threat Eliza, her younger sister Avery and two of their friends decide that they are going to save it.  But how?  The children agree to go on a secret mission to find the legendary loup-garou who may be the key to saving their home before it is swallowed by the rising sea levels. This is a story with a strong ecological message set in the breath-taking Louisiana wetlands. A powerful story of children having the courage to shape their future.

My first Blog Tour. I signed up to a Blog Tour company with the hope that I would eventually be offered some middle-grade Blog Tours. I was very excited to be offered on a Tour, and loved taking part in my first Blog Tour for Awa and the Dreamrealm. I have taken part in a few others at the end of the year and have a couple more scheduled for February.

Taking part in my first Readathon. I decided to take part in my first Readthon which was the #20BooksofSummer run by Cathy at 764books.com. I loved taking part in this although I didn’t manage to complete all 20 – I did manage 15! My first read was Wildspark which is an absolutely stunning book by one of my favourite authors, Vashti Hardy. Prue Haywood is a talented engineer who lives on her small farm, building and repairing mechanimals.  She is overwhelmed by grief at the devastating loss of her older brother Francis.  But what if she could find a way to bring her adored brother back? This is exactly what she decides to attempt when she is invited to Medlock to work as an apprentice, working with animal personifates who embody people brought back from the dead – but with no memory of who they were in life. This is a truly incredible story which absolutely immersed and gripped me from the start.

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Heart

Published by Bloomsbury
Published on 9th August 2018
Illustrator: Freya Hartas

Just wow!  This magical adventure is utterly superb.  It is the kind of story I just sink into contentedly:  it completely immersed me in a richly imagined world with a brilliant cast of characters whose interactions and relationships captured me as I was desperate to learn the truth of Silke’s story.

The first book in this series, The Dragon with the Chocolate Hearttold Aventurine’s story and introduced the strong friendship between her and Silke.  This story is most definitely Silke’s and what an incredibly brilliantly told story it is …

Silke is determined to be the creator of her own path, the author of her own life story, and is most definitely not prepared to accept the path that was forced upon her as a young child.   She is fiercely independent, clever and has a way with words that sees her talk herself out of many tricky situations … but also into a few!  However, the Silke she shows her friends – the bright smile and quick wit – is not her true self as she is hiding deep pain and loss. 

Silke suffers hidden heartache in her past as the fairies of Erkenwald struck a cruel bargain with her parents that saw her separated from them.  This terrible separation at such a young age leaves Silke craving a home and a sense of belonging, but also determined to find security, something she thinks she is going to have when she is offered a home in the Palace by the Crown Princess Katrin in return for some spying.  Unfortunately for Silke, the younger Princess Sofia feels she would make a better spy.  Sofia has a deep desire to impress her older sister and is jealous of Silke’s role:  will she be able to overcome her jealousy, or will she ruin Silke’s chance for a home in the palace?

The fairy Court of Erkenwald have read one of Silke’s handbills, effusing about their new protectors, the dragons, who happen to be an old enemy of the fairies.  They announce that they are coming to make their own alliance with Drachenburg.  Will Silke be able to maintain her cover as a lady-in-waiting, or will the temptation to find out what happened to her parents be too strong to overcome and so risk her new-found position at Court? 

The fairy King and Queen are brilliantly drawn.  They exude a real sense of threat through their powerful magic and manipulative natures.  Does their offer of an alliance hold an ulterior motive?  One related to an age-old enemy and new friend of the Court.  Can Silke strike a bargain with the fairies that will save the Kingdom, and herself?

The friendship between Silke and Aventurine is truly wonderful.  Aventurine is a fiercely loyal friend:  fiery, protective and funny.  She is also impulsive, proud and strong-willed:  a combination that leads to trouble … This love and loyalty is returned in full by Silke who is learning the true value of friendship and home.  She realises that a home is where the people who love and accept you for who you are live; where you can be honest and be your true self; where you are supported and not alone. 

This is a truly wonderful story which I read in one sitting, completely captured by Silke and engrossed in the narrative:  filled with excitement, fast-paced action and wonderful characters.  A real treat – just like a mug of the best chilli-infused hot chocolate:  heart-warming, rich and completely satisfying – with a kick!


First Line Fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. ‘Out to the hoghouse,’ replied Mrs Arable. ‘Some pigs were born last night.’ ‘I don’t see why he needs an axe,’ continued Fern, who was only eight.

Any ideas?

This is my current read: it is just wonderful. It fills me with a real feeling of nostalgia as I grew up on a farm – although we didn’t keep pigs! I can’t believe I haven’t read this before! I’m fulfilling one of my Bookish Resolutions by reading more children’s classics this year. I think I’ve started with a good one!

Goodreads Synopsis:

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

WWW Wednesday

This is a meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words.  It asks three questions:

1.      What are you currently reading?

2.      What did you recently finish reading?

3.      What do you think you’ll read next?

Strictly speaking, I’m not actually reading this yet, but I will be later this evening. I’ve just finished a book which tore me apart emotionally, so I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but I’m going to try!

I’ve just finished reading this absolutely stunning book which has left me an emotional wreck! It really did completely blow me away – the imagery is truly incredible, the plot is utterly fascinating and Apaay – just wow! I am taking part in a Blog Tour for this at the start of February and will post my review then. I think this is a very special book, and am already looking forward to the next one.

In my Bookish New Year’s Resolutions, I said I would try to read more historical fiction this year. A lovely friend at work has loaned me her signed copy of this one, so I’m going to read it next. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this book so I’m really looking forward to it.